The smartphone war seems to have been won definitively by Android, according to the latest data on Android's share of smartphones brought to global market over the past year.
Behind that truth, however, the war continues, at least for second place. That's because many millions of new customers buy new smartphones every year from several major OS makers, including Apple, Research in Motion (RIM) and Microsoft.
Worldwide smartphone forecast
The Android OS, which runs on hundreds of models from a variety of manufacturers, will capture 39% of the global market this year, dramatically up from a 23% share recorded a year ago, according to IDC's latest forecast.
Even so, battles are fierce for second place. In its June forecast, IDC said it expects RIM's BlackBerry to slip in share this year to 14%, while Apple's iOS will grow to 18%, just behind Symbian. Both Apple and RIM make their own OSes and manufacture their own devices, unlike Android, which was developed by Google for use by other smartphone makers.
Windows Phone (and the older Windows Mobile) will lurk behind the others with less than 4% share in 2011. Still, Windows Phone -- which Nokia and other manufacturers plan to use -- is expected to reach a 20% share in 2015, according to IDC. By then, Nokia will have replaced its Symbian OS with Windows. The Symbian OS dominated smartphones with 36% of the market in 2010.
What the fight over market share overlooks is the impressive growth in the number of smartphones worldwide. To that point: IDC tracked shipments of 304.7 million smartphones in 2010, and expects that number to hit 472 million for all of 2011 -- a growth rate of 55% over 2010. IDC now expects the number of smartphones to grow at an annual rate of 26% a year through 2015.
By then, IDC said 982 million smartphones will be shipped by manufacturers to retailers.
IDC's forecasts are seen as highly reliable by vendors and other analysts, and often mirror outlooks published by Gartner Inc. Additionally, ComScore, a market research firm, surveys U.S. smartphone subscribers and has noted Google Android's ascendancy in the U.S. in 2011, with nearly 42% of the market, followed by Apple (27%), RIM (21.7%) and Microsoft Windows (5.7%).
Of note: IDC has dropped WebOS from its forecasts, following Hewlett-Packard's decision to stop selling devices running it and uncertainty about what will happen with it.
IDC and others attribute the enormous growth to trends that are already well-established: Smartphone makers are adding features such as faster processors and better screens even as prices continue to drop.
"You don't exactly see free phones offered by the U.S. carriers in return for a two-year contract, but prices are coming down overall," said Ramon Llamas, an analyst at IDC. (The $300 that Verizon Wireless wants for the Motorola Droid Bionic dual-core smartphone on Verizon's fast LTE network is the exception; many recent smartphones sell at subsidized prices of $150 to $200 in the U.S. with a two-year contract.)
In coming years, smartphones will be lighter-weight with even faster processors and longer-lasting batteries, Llamas predicts.